Knights partner with Catholic medical centers to serve and empower women and to save lives
By Zoey Maraist
Around the United States, a different kind of health care center is increasingly making its mark. At these clinics, life is honored from the moment of conception; fertility isn’t treated like a disease; and the doors are always open to women facing crisis pregnancies.
To continue and expand the life-affirming care they offer, these medical centers often turn to the Knights of Columbus. From the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative and ASAP (Aid and Support After Pregnancy) program to providing other assistance, prayers and word-of-mouth advertising, Knights are playing a pivotal role in building up compassionate, Christ-centered medicine.
In a statement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly affirmed, “In a post-Roe world, the Knights will continue to be there for mothers and children, and we will continue to proclaim the dignity of every human life.”
Complementing its assistance to pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes, the Order’s support of a growing number of pro-life health care groups and medical centers — such as those featured below — is yet another way the Knights help to proclaim and foster the Gospel of life.
By the time the patient arrived at the Gianna Center in Rockville Centre, New York, she had endured five miscarriages and sought care at three other fertility clinics. But unlike the medical professionals at the previous clinics, Gianna Center staff didn’t offer her in vitro fertilization (IVF) — they taught her to chart her cycle, tracking and documenting the signs of her fertility. Her chart revealed a hormone imbalance that could be treated with medication. After that, the patient had three full-term pregnancies free from complications.
“I’m so in awe when the beautiful outcomes occur,” said Dr. Jennifer DeMarco, director of the Gianna Center in Rockville Centre. “And we see them a lot.”
The National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility is a network of Catholic women’s reproductive health care affiliates with three New York locations. They take their name from St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician who steadfastly refused abortion despite pregnancy complications that later claimed her life.
“The first Gianna Center was under a different Catholic hospital, which unfortunately closed after we opened in 2009,” said Dr. Anne Nolte, co-founder and executive director. “The Knights of Columbus stepped in with a grant to help keep the center delivering services in New York City.”
As the centers multiplied, Knights have provided support, raising funds for ultrasound machines and making donations through the ASAP program.
Deacon Tommy Malone, a member of Msgr. W.J. Walsh-St. Raymond Council 7220 in East Rockaway, recently spearheaded his council’s effort to raise funds for an ultrasound machine at the Rockville Centre location.
“We all just hope that this ultimately will make a difference in a lot of women’s lives and save the lives of a lot of children,” he said.
The care provided at the Gianna Center is as effective as IVF for most underlying causes of infertility — and much more pro-life, Dr. Nolte affirmed.
“Statistically, an average of seven embryos is destroyed for every baby that is born through in vitro,” she explained. “So giving couples real alternatives to in vitro when they are faced with infertility or recurrent miscarriage is not just good health care; it’s lifesaving. The fertility industry and its destructiveness are a hidden part of the culture that the Knights are trying to transform into a culture of life.”
Before becoming a Gianna Center patient, Katelyn Rose was prescribed birth control for her painful periods. But she and her future husband, Franco Pellicciotta, hoped to have a baby after getting married, so she went to the Gianna Center in Babylon seeking a true solution. The medical director, Dr. Paul Carpentier, worked to uncover her underlying condition while teaching Katelyn more about her body.
“After doing everything he told me to do with vitamins, lifestyle choices and the eventual surgery [for endometriosis], my pain went from a 10 out of 10 to a zero,” she said.
Katelyn and Franco — a member of Holy Innocents Council 3581 in Levittown — welcomed their son, James, one year to the day after Katelyn’s surgery. Franco credits Dr. Carpentier’s thorough and proactive approach for their success in conceiving.
“If the Knights weren’t working to support clinics like the Gianna Center,” Franco said, “I don’t know if we would have a baby right now.”
THE HEART OF THE CITY
It all began one Sunday two years ago with a challenge.
“Sadly, Michigan has become a very pro-abortion state,” Msgr. Charles Kosanke said during a homily at the Basilica of St. Anne in Detroit, where he serves as rector. “It’s important for the Catholic Church to teach and preach on pro-life issues, and it’s equally important to put that teaching into practice.”
After Mass, he was approached separately by two parishioners who wanted to start a pro-life clinic. At the time, Msgr. Kosanke, a member of the Knights for more than 40 years, was looking for a way to make use of a former convent on the basilica’s campus. Thus the idea of establishing a medical center took root and grew. Soon enough, Michigan Knights jumped at the chance to help transform the convent building into the Heart of Christ Clinic.
“The whole state — the 70,000 Knights and their families — just got behind this clinic,” said Michigan State Deputy Chris Kolomjec. “We raised $126,000 in one pass-the-hat effort at our state convention,” he said, noting that the Supreme Council later donated funds as well.
The state council also asked local Knights to raise money for the clinic’s state-of-the-art ultrasound machine, which Kolomjec described as “the best ultrasound in the state of Michigan.”
On Dec. 1, the Heart of Christ Clinic opened its doors to patients, about 60% of whom are expected to be uninsured or on Medicare or Medicaid. The facility has a chapel, a lab, four family practice exam rooms and a women’s health floor for exams, ultrasounds and procedures.
Dr. Thomas Meyer, an obstetrician-gynecologist, serves as the clinic’s medical director. A member of Father Daniel A. Lord Council 3959 in Livonia, Meyer was one of the parishioners who first approached Msgr. Kosanke. The clinic is owned by Christ Medicus, a Catholic health care policy organization founded by that second parishioner, Mike O’Dea.
In addition to excellent medical care, Heart of Christ staffers plan to assist patients in a variety of other ways.
“If you need a lawyer or a really good dentist who accepts Medicaid, well, we can help you with that,” explained Dr. Lisa Knysz, the clinic director.
There are also plans to hire a behavioral health counselor, perform abortion pill reversals and offer adoption counseling through Catholic Charities.
The Knights in Michigan plan to continue serving the clinic, whether it’s by making needed repairs or praying in its chapel. There is even talk of helping to establish Heart of Christ Clinics in each of the state’s other six dioceses.
“We could not ask for a better partner than the Knights — their dedication and their passion and their belief in this clinic,” said Knysz. “Having a pro-life Catholic clinic in the heart of an urban city where the providers not only value life but also support the family and are willing to openly pray with individuals who come in through the door — I think it’s going to be a beacon of light.”
LED BY OUR LADY
As Dr. John Bruchalski began his career as an OB-GYN in the 1980s, he found that being a good doctor in the eyes of the world became more important to him than the Catholic faith of his childhood.
“I just fell into this belief that to be the best OB-GYN I could be, I had to perform abortions for failed contraception,” he said. “So that’s what I did.”
But all that changed when he attempted to perform an abortion and the child was born alive. The tiny baby girl was sent to the neonatal intensive care unit, where a NICU doctor reprimanded Bruchalski for treating her patient like a tumor.
“She also recommended that I go back to my roots and find the Blessed Mother, who would help me,” Bruchalski recalled.
And help him she did. Not long after, Bruchalski went on a Marian pilgrimage that changed his life. Upon his return, he stopped performing abortions and sterilizations. A few years later in 1994, he founded Tepeyac OB-GYN — a pro-life medical clinic in Fairfax, Virginia, named after the hill in Mexico where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.
The practice had humble beginnings — namely, Bruchalski’s basement. He and his wife, Carolyn, relied on a $60,000 loan from family and friends, including several priests, to open the medical center. They had a three-part mission: be excellent in medicine, serve underserved women and not only those with means, and follow the teachings of the Church.
Kim Kenna, one of the practice’s first patients, switched to Tepeyac because she wanted authentically Catholic health care. “I had my first three children somewhere else with quote-unquote Catholic doctors, but they still prescribed contraception,” she said.
With Bruchalski, Kenna found both medical expertise she could trust and the perspective of faith. “Most doctors only see the medical side,” she said, “but you know he’s praying and asking the saints to intercede.”
In the past three decades, Bruchalski and his colleagues have served more than 60,000 women and delivered 14,000 babies, in addition to mentoring many medical professionals who have started their own pro-life clinics. Along with routine obstetrical and gynecological care, they offer natural family planning lessons and a perinatal hospice program for families facing a poor diagnosis for their unborn child. Local pregnancy resource centers regularly send clients to Tepeyac for prenatal care.
Bruchalski is a member of Padre Pio Council 10754 in Great Falls, and his brother Knights in northern Virginia have provided Tepeyac with six different ultrasound machines over the years. Most recently, St. John Bosco Council 12846 in Springfield funded a 4D ultrasound machine for the practice in 2022.
“The Knights talk about being in the heart of Christ, going where the need is,” Bruchalski said. “Not only are some serving in a war zone, but they recognize we’re in a war zone here — it’s the war of life. And they have always been on the cutting edge — enabling us to serve.”
ZOEY MARAIST writes from northern Virginia.